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Antifungal Peptides of the AFP Family Revisited: Are These Cannibal Toxins?

Meyer, Vera; Jung, Sascha

The emergence and spread of pathogenic fungi resistant to currently used antifungal drugs represents a serious challenge for medicine and agriculture. The use of smart antimicrobials, so-called “dirty drugs” which affect multiple cellular targets, is one strategy to prevent resistance. Of special interest is the exploitation of the AFP family of antimicrobial peptides, which include its founding member AFP from Aspergillus giganteus. This latter is a highly potent inhibitor of chitin synthesis and affects plasma membrane integrity in many human and plant pathogenic fungi. A transcriptomic meta-analysis of the afp-encoding genes in A. giganteus and A. niger predicts a role for these proteins during asexual sporulation, autophagy, and nutrient recycling, suggesting that AFPs are molecules important for the survival of A. niger and A. giganteus under nutrient limitation. In this review, we discuss parallels which exist between AFPs and bacterial cannibal toxins and provide arguments that the primary function of AFPs could be to kill genetically identical siblings. We hope that this review inspires computational and experimental biologists studying alternative explanations for the nature and function of antimicrobial peptides beyond the general assumption that they are mere defense molecules to fight competitors.
Published in: Microorganisms, 10.3390/microorganisms6020050, MDPI